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Mr. Steve Webb (Northavon): The SSRB asked what a person in a comparator job would be paid. Does my hon. Friend accept that, in determining what we should be paid, that is only half the question? Unlike an NHS manager, we are expected to be representatives and to understand the living standards of our constituents. If we merely say that we do the same sort of job as a senior civil servant and so should be paid the same, there is a danger that we will lose touch with our constituents.
Mr. Tyler: I hope that my hon. Friend will have an opportunity to develop that interesting argument. The problem is that, although we look for comparators, the job of a representative of the nation in this place is unique, so it is extremely difficult to find a completely relevant comparator. I take my hon. Friend's point, but I think that he is asking for perfection.
I do not want to say anything more about salary, because I accept the SSRB recommendation. Although many of us may have concerns about some of the proposals at the fringes, we must maintain the integrity of the package if we canon that, I am with the Leader of the House. If we ask people outside to make a careful assessment of what is right but then start to play with that assessment, we will open a can of worms.
It is important to remember that the allowances are ceilings; they are not recommended expenditure or perks. We are not being given some money and told to take it. Whatever the allowance may be, individual Members of Parliament may go up to that ceiling for that purpose. Not every Member must go up to the ceiling or feel that that is necessary. I am full of admiration for Members who are able to provide a service to their constituents at a lower rate; that is fine.
It is important that we do not accept the whole of the SSRB report, and the appendices produced by the consultants, as though they were written in stone. It is clear from the table to which the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) referred that Hay did not really get under the skin of Members of Parliament. There is no reference to a case worker. Most Members of Parliament have someone who does case work as a key function in their constituency office. Similarly, it is clear from the job descriptions in that appendix that there will be mixes of different types of operation, and every Member may have a different mix. The motion is not saying that that is how it will be done: it is merely an illustration, and the figures given are median figures.
In addition to the point about national insurance contributions and redundancy figures, there is the extremely important issue of whether these are salary ranges or salary scales. I know from my business experience as well as from my experience in the House that those two things are very different. People on salary ranges may be told, "You'll start there and we'll see how you go." Salary ranges have the important function of ensuring that there is not a glass ceiling on which people soon bang their heads, and are quite different from salary scales. I am sure that the Fees Office will be alive to that.
I understand that we shall be given some salary ranges before the recess, so it will be much easier to see how the issues to which the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton referred can be dealt with. The onus will still be on Members of Parliament to ensure that we remunerate our staff sensibly and properly, and that we devise realistic rather than artificial job specifications. It would be absurd if we accepted Hay's descriptions, which are not appropriate.
I welcome the provision for security. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones) knows only too well how inadequately and disgracefully we have protected our staff and our voluntary assistants in the past, because we have not had the resources to do so. I am sure that we all remember the tragic result of that failure.
I endorse the principle behind the special motion relating to the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). It is important to note that it does not refer to him as the Foreign Secretary. We are not indemnifying an officer of the Crown. All Members of Parliament and their staff must be protected against the litigious actions of the public in the work we do on their behalf. I welcome what the Leader of the House has said on the insurance that is built into the package.
As I said at the outset, the Liberal Democrats have a free vote, so my advice is purely that and no stronger. I am worried by the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait). Although I recognise their force, I think I am right in saying that they would negate the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush on the differential between London-based staff and the staff of London Members of Parliament. The logic of the report is that London-based staff will want London rates to apply. I am concerned that if we accepted the amendment of the hon. Member for Beckenham we could not incorporate amendment (o) tabled by the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush.
Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham): I should like to reassure the hon. Gentleman here and now that my amendment was not drafted with that in mind: it was drafted to build in flexibility. If the amendment is likely to be accepted, I am happy to redraft it.
Mr. Tyler: I do not know whether that is possible, but whoever replies to the debate may deal with that point. As I read the amendment, and according to advice I have received from the Clerks Department, it would negate amendment (o).
I confess that I have some difficulty with the issue of incidental expenses and the ceiling of £14,000 or £18,000. My parliamentary constituency office is not subsidised, but it has been located in its present premises for some time and the rent is relatively low. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty), who is newly elected to the House, faces a different rental market. She is an example of a Member who will find it difficult to rent reasonable accommodation that provides safety and security for her staff.
I have great sympathy with the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) on the additional costs allowancethe costs that those of us with constituents in other parts of the country incur when travelling to and spending time in London. I hope that he will explain the logic of his amendment. After all, the SSRB identified this as a real problem, but it was not asked to do so in relation to the House of Commons; it was asked to do so in relation to our noble Friends. The timing was unfortunate, in that when the inquiry was set up the board was not asked to consider the problem on our behalf. It is a particularly serious problem given the cost of finding accommodation in London, which affects all Members but especially new Members.
It is always tempting to follow the hon. Member for Sunderland, South, who is very persuasive, but I think that to tear up the arrangement we have reached with the SSRB and find a completely new comparator would be entirely misguided at this stage, and would open a Pandora's box.
When it comes to parliamentary pensions I take the advice of the trustees very seriously, as I think many Members will. None of us is here for ever, and although I have not yet reached the point of having a special interestunlike the Leader of the HouseI remember only too well, when I first arrived here many years ago, seeing some Members retire on derisory pensions. I therefore hope that Members will listen carefully to what is said by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill).
My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) asks for only one of the SSRB's recommendations to be put to the House for comment, at this stage, rather than being kicked into what may be rather longer grass than we intended.
The debate is important and many wish to speak, but let me reiterate one major point: if we decide to tear up the recommendations of those who have been asked to advise us on an objective basis, we shall become involved in some very invidious discussions in this place. I hope we shall not do that.